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Introduction: This is a followup on an earlier diary by N in Seattle.

They never quit, do they?

King County is the latest setting for the newest series of Republican dirty tricks.

Using the 2004 gubernatorial election saga as an excuse, the Republicans have filed challenges to nearly 2,000 voter registrations within King County - Washington State's most populous county, and a Democratic stronghold.

Just days before this Tuesday's general election, thousands of voters have received letters in the mail informing them that their right to vote is being challenged by the Republican Party of King County. The story broke a few days ago and has been since covered extensively by the local media (more links below the jump).

It's an outrageous attempt to harass and intimidate King County voters from going to the polls or mailing in their absentee ballots. The Republicans are filing these challenges now in the hopes of influencing this year's race for King County Executive, which pits progressive Democrat Ron Sims (the incumbent) against Republican challenger David Irons.

(more below the fold)

Here's an overview of the story: King County Republican Vice Chairman Lori Sotelo recently filed challenges to nearly 2,000 voters within the county, claiming that she had "personal knowledge or belief" that those voters did not live at their registered addresses.

The attempted purge is part of the Republicans' "Voter Registration Integrity Project" which is Orwellian for "Cheating Democratic voters out of their constitutional rights."

Last Thursday, all of the voters whose registrations are being challenged received certified notification letters from the county elections department.

Here's a picture of what the letter looks like, courtesy of KING5 News, which did a good story (follow the image link for regional blog coverage):

Harassment Letter

Since Thursday, a firestorm has ensued and the county elections division has been deluged with phone calls from angry voters who assert their registrations are being falsely challenged.

From Washblog, here's how these challenges work:

Lori Sotelo, liar, cheat and bully, challenges your right to vote. You are notified that your registration has been challenged. You can still go vote, but your ballot is marked "challenged", and set aside. All non-challenged votes are counted.

Then (this is the great part), you have to attend a hearing to prove you live where you say you live. Lori Sotelo, liar, cheat and bully, also has to attend these hearings, but I have my doubts that she will actually bother to try and substantiate her claims, because she has no actual knowledge of any of these voters' situations, and THAT is a truth that she undoubtedly has "personal knowledge" of. Once you've proved that you live where you say you live, your vote will be counted.

And here's what's really clever: the filing of the registrations was timed to be right on the eve of the November 8th election, so that hearings have to be scheduled after the election. The GOP is hoping that voters whose registrations are being challenged will get discouraged and just not even bother to vote at all.

After the letters began arriving, the news media and progressive NW bloggers quickly jumped on the story.

The story first appeared on The Stranger's website, where one of the voters whose address was challenged posted to the site's forum:

So I get this certified letter from King County today informing me that my voter registration has been challenged.

Attached is a form signed by some woman named Lori D. Sotelo saying that "under penalty of perjury" she has "personal knowledge and believe that this person ... does nto reside at the address given on his or her voter registration..."

Under the section where she is asked to provide factual basis for the challenge, she writes "Voter is registered to vote at an address that is not a physical residence."

WTF? I live in a vintage apartment building in Belltown [the Watermarke] with about 60 other people. Then I talked to my neighbors - EVERYONE I talked to also received the letter.

Yep - that's right. The Republicans challenged the voter registrations of EVERY SINGLE PERSON in THIS apartment building:

Watermarke Building

Others being harassed are people who have lived in the same house for decades, and still others whose residence is also where they operate their business.

Let's take a look at some of the voters who the Republicans are challenging. Back to Washblog:

Meet Kathleen Dolan. Kathleen is a soft-spoken woman who has lived at the same address on Queen Anne since she bought her house in 1975. With the exception of six years spent teaching at universities in Tennesee and Pennsylvania, she's lived in this house for thirty years.

The last time she lived elsewhere was in the late '80's. In all that time, she has always been registered to vote at one address: the home where she lives. But this week, she received a letter from King County Elections telling her that her right to vote was being challenged by the King County Republican party.

[...]

I spoke with Theresa Bushnell, a resident at the home of Barbara Taylor, both voters who have also been challenged by Ms. Sotelo. Ms. Taylor manages a storage warehouse, and her home is onsite, as many storage facilities require their managers to live on the property. Ms. Taylor has four registered voters in her home including Ms. Bushnell, and has lived and voted at this address for at least eleven years.

And we're just getting started. Here's a snippet from a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article:

"I'm extremely disappointed and angry at the audacity of this woman [Sotelo] and the party she represents," said Demene Hall, who got one of the letters. Hall has lived for 16 years at the Watermarke apartment building at 320 Cedar St. in Seattle, her registration address.

Hall, who said she is "too African American" not to be a regular voter, said Friday she came of age in the civil rights era and watched her parents hand out political fliers outside polling places they were not allowed to enter.

"We just buried Rosa Parks on Wednesday, I got the letter on Thursday and today is my 57th birthday," she said. "And they're challenging my validity?"

Yes, Demene, they are. They're cowards who play dirty, attempting to disenfranchise you so they can win. By the way, state Republican Party chairman Chris Vance (hereafter ChairmanVance) has been returning all calls made by reporters to Sotelo. ChairmanVance now acknowledges the Watermarke was included by mistake.

King County elections officials confirm that the GOP rescinded 140 of the challenges on Friday. But it's too late for the people who have already gotten letters challenging their registration.

More from the P-I:

The GOP looked up addresses for commercial storage facilities and postal-box services in the Yellow Pages and cross-referenced them with voter-registration addresses to generate an initial challenge list, [Chiarman]Vance said. The party then dispatched researchers with digital cameras to confirm the illegal registrations, he said.

But the Watermarke mistakenly ended up on the final list, even though it's a three-story brick apartment building with no signs of commercial activity on the premises.

So did the single-family house at 902 First St. in Kirkland, its owner, Steve Meuter, said Friday; the registrations of both he and his wife, Linda, have been challenged, he said.

"We got these miserable letters," he said. "For us to correct this, we have to go to downtown Seattle, and God knows what kind of line you're going to stand in down there."

A regular voter and a resident of Kirkland for 30 years, Meuter said he's lived with his wife at 902 First St. since 2002.

The P-I article goes on to talk about Ms. Taylor, who was in the Washblog post I referenced above. It also has the reaction from elected Democrats:

Democratic politicians Friday assailed the Republicans' challenge effort.

"This is not election reform, this is voter intimidation and voter suppression," County Council Chairman Larry Phillips said in a news release. "Validly registered voters in King County should not be intimidated by this Republican dirty trick."

And state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said in a release, "This shows how desperate the Republicans are and what lengths they will go to in order to win."

Concerted efforts to purge voters from the rolls -- especially GOP efforts -- are nothing new. A 2004 report by professor Chandler Davidson and other researchers at Rice University in Houston documents numerous "ballot security programs" mounted by Republicans across the country in the past 50 years. Most of them were targeted at black and other minority voters who traditionally vote Democratic, the authors said.

And Harvard Law School professor Heather Gerken, an authority in the field, said Friday, "There's always one side that's in favor of making it easier to vote, and then on the other side there are people who argue about integrity and fraud. It's always Democrats on the first side and Republicans on the second, and this is not a coincidence."

Make no mistake about it, this has become a nationwide tactic - and almost every Kossack knows it. Especially those of you from Florida and Ohio. We can't let the Republicans keep getting away with this.

Let's jump to the Seattle Times article:

Bob Thoma said he and his partner, Jim Blodgett, both received letters. "I am upset beyond words," he said. "She [Sotelo] didn't take the time to do her homework."

Thoma said he and Blodgett live in an apartment at the Capitol Hill storage-unit complex he manages. He said it has been his voting address for 11 years. He said he may have to take a day off work to attend the hearing to defend his vote.

Of course the Republicans didn't do "their homework." This is a cheap political broadside fired in the hopes of helping David Irons become King County Executive. And if Irons is elected, you can bet that there WILL be a purge of the voter rolls!

Back to the Times again:

Jeff Weber, another voter whose registration was challenged, said he lives and is registered at his home in West Seattle, and is mystified about how he ended up on the Republicans' list.

"I think it's outrageous," he said. "It's a bungalow in West Seattle. ... It's a single-family house on a 5,000-square-foot lot. If they had done any investigating at all, they would have known."

Annette Fallin of Belltown said she was notified her registration had been challenged the same day she mailed in her absentee ballot.

"I'm very irate over it," she said. "I get this piece of mail telling me they're not even counting it like a normal ballot."

The challenge to Fallin's registration was one of the 140 the GOP dropped Friday. More than 50 of the 140 were registered at her apartment building, the Watermarke on Cedar Street.

The challenges to Thoma's, Taylor's, Blodgett's and Weber's registrations were not rescinded.

Yep, I'd be pissed too if I received a letter like that. But you know what? I'm pissed already! How dare the Republicans attempt to launch an assault on our voter rolls! Citizens of King County need to make their voices loud and clear. The Republicans should be punished for this. They should be sued.

There's no mistaking it for what this is: a Republican dirty trick.

"ChairmanVance" asserts that their "research" (more like the compilation of a hit list) is "90% accurate". Do you believe him? I sure as hell don't.

It's a sloppy, amateurish attempt to disenfrance, attack, harass, and intimidate Democratic voters. It's what we've come to expect from the party of Rove. It is an assault on the very freedom that the United States of America is built upon. It is intolerable and unexcusable.

Now, of course, the GOP assumed that most of the voter registrations they were challenging were voters who vote Democratic. But there must be a few in there who are Republicans - and sure enough, there are. KING 5 interviewed one of them:

Republican voter whose right to vote is being challenged by his own party

"I'm registered as a Republican," complained an irate Dean Lovitt. "I have been since I was 18". Wonder how Dean feels now? He probably feels like his own party has stabbed him in the back. This is how the GOP rewards its own loyal voters.

As far as the GOP machine is concerned, people like Dean Lovitt are expendable fodder. So what if a few loyal Republicans get their voter registration challenged? The vast majority who are being harassed are Democrats, and that's the whole point.

Fortunately, we have the list of all the voters whose registrations were challenged, and the news media has given this extensive coverage. Voters whose registrations are being challenged are asked to vote anyway. The King County elections office set up a special hotline and opened their office yesterday to take calls from voters.

The Seattle Times has more on this story this morning:

King County Elections administrators say 155 of more than 1,900 voters who learned last week their right to vote was under challenge by the Republican Party have voluntarily changed the address on their registrations to make them legal.

Election administrators said most of the 155 voters had either checked the wrong address box or lived on boats and used a post-office box.

Many other voters contacted the elections office last week to say the challenges were unjustified, Elections Director Dean Logan said on Friday. The Elections Office was open Saturday to allow voters to change or defend the addresses on their registrations, and about 200 people people phoned or came in, Logan said Saturday.

Still, that's only a fraction of the list, which has thousands more voters on it.

Additional coverage on this story:

You can bet we're going to do our best to make the Republicans pay for this. They smugly assert there's more to come. We'll see about that. Democrats will be forming an action plan to counter the GOP's dirty tricks.

Originally posted to nwprogressive on Sun Nov 06, 2005 at 10:37 AM PST.

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